Friday, November 25, 2005

RENT - the Film

Still working on my Boston trip report part deux, but in the meantime I wanted to encourage everybody out there (especially anyone outside New York) to go see RENT.

Yes, I know it's getting mixed reviews. But read between the lines of those reviews and you'll see that this is one of those movies where there is just no middle ground - you love it or you hate it, often based as much on personal biases and preconceived notions as anything else. It is a film that doesn't compromise, just like the Broadway show on which it's based. It presents a group of characters that are all far from perfect; beyond tragically-flawed, all of them. But it does not judge its characters; it simply presents a slice of life at a particular place and time.

I saw the Broadway musical a few years ago and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, in part because it reminded me so much of my own life living in the East Village at around the same time Jonathan Larson was writing the show. I saw many of the real-life events in the show first-hand - the squatter evictions on Avenue A, the riots, etc. I knew many people just like the characters in Rent - yes, people like that really do exist in New York, even today. The neighborhood has changed a lot since the stage show was written - it's richer, safer, more gentrified - but the script still feels relevant, the characters still feel real. (MSNBC said straight out that a story about characters dealing with AIDS "seems dated" today; I guess they stumbled onto a cure at some point and just haven't told anyone yet. If you also believe AIDS is "like, so five minutes ago", then no, Rent is probably not the movie for you.)

The film is for the most part a straight scene for scene shooting of the Broadway version, almost to a fault. I might have actually liked a little more imagination in the direction and cinematography, a little more fleshing-out of the visuals for film. The second half also feels a little choppy due to the removal of a couple of important songs, and the ending's a little abrupt as a result. A couple of other nitpicks: the main exterior set (Avenue A and 11th St.) doesn't really look anything like the real thing, and the time period is off by a few years - the film is set in 1989-1990, where the play was supposed to be present-day in 1996, when it was first performed.

But these are relatively minor issues in the grand scheme of things. Yes, the Broadway show is still better. But the point is if you have know other way of seeing Rent, then you need to see this film. It retains all the spirit, all the rawness and almost all the emotion from the original. You'll laugh, you'll cry, no joke. Go see it.

Any questions about the film, the show, or my thoughts on either, feel free to leave a comment. Annoying comments will be deleted at my discretion (this ain't a democracy).

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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